King Darius seems like a bumbling fool in this anxious story. First, he is persuaded by his advisors to make an unbreakable law that, in a land where many gods were common, no one could worship any gods or kings except King Darius – a self-serving and wholly unnecessary law. Then, the king over all the land didn’t have the power to revoke his own misguided law. The only things King Darius seemed to do right were fasting on behalf of Daniel, and then informing his subjects of God’s mercy and dominion.
Daniel, on the other hand, seemed to do everything right. First, and before this text began, Daniel established himself as trustworthy so that King Darius liked him and wanted him around. Then, he refused to give up his ritual of prayer to the living God, despite the danger. Next, Daniel remained faithful and courageous in the face of danger. Finally, he proclaimed God’s greatness the moment he was redeemed. It seems that God rewarded Daniel’s faithfulness, although experience suggests that is not always the case.
When I was younger I heard of prison camps in Asia where Christians had been tortured. Prisoners were shown an image of Jesus and promised that if they renounced Jesus, the torture would end. As a kid, I couldn’t understand why anyone would not renounce Jesus, if only to make the torture stop. The one renouncing Jesus would know in their heart that they didn’t mean it. But now that I am older I understand it differently. The integrity of standing up for what one believes can become even more important than one’s own life or pain. I have great respect now for people who are willing to give their lives for what they believe. I sometimes wonder if there is anything I believe in strongly enough to give up my life. Or have I become so sheltered in this land of freedom that the mere notion of self-sacrifice is just too foreign? (Incidentally, it is children I would give my life for… mine or anyone’s.)
So the presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live forever! All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict. Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.
The conspirators came and found Daniel praying and seeking mercy before his God. Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?” The king answered, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Then they responded to the king, “Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day.” When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.” Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel.
Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him. Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces.
Then King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: “May you have abundant prosperity! I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.”